Undercover MPS officers target luxury watch robbers in London

The Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) has been using undercover officers to target watch robbery across central London boroughs.

Jan 17, 2024
By Paul Jacques

The force has been using data-driven, intelligence-led operations in pinpointed hotspots where luxury watch thefts were at their highest.

In the six-month period prior to October 2022 there were more than 300 luxury watches stolen across the three boroughs of Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea and Hammersmith and Fulham.

Intelligence showed suspects targeting victims leaving pubs and nightclubs, most of whom were intoxicated and in a vulnerable state, said the MPS.

It added: “The suspects’ MO was to offer drugs/sex workers before taking them to quiet side streets to rob them, or approach them from behind before violently attacking them for their property.”

In response to the rocketing number of offences, officers from the MPS Covert Policing Command and central London robbery team set up two operations to identify the robbers.

“These featured undercover officers wearing luxury watches and posing as members of the public at the times and locations we knew these criminals operated in, with the aim of catching them red-handed, the force said.

The operations ran from October to December 2022 and March to October 2023 within Soho – which along with the other hotspots of Mayfair and the south part of Kensington and Chelsea, accounted for 40 per cent of all watch robberies in London at the time.

Overall both operations resulted in 31 arrests and 27 successful charges, leading to 21 convictions to date. Of this group of 21, 14 individuals have so far been sentenced to a total of 26 years overall, with other cases pending.

The operations also successfully reduced the watch robbery rate across not just the borough of Westminster (which Soho is part of) but also the boroughs of Kensington and Chelsea and Hammersmith and Fulham as well.

The first operation from October to December 2022 saw a drop of 28 per cent in watch robberies across the three boroughs by the end of that three-month period – down from 43 watch robberies in October to 31 in December.

The second operation from March to October 2023 reduced watch robberies by 15.8 per cent across the three boroughs – 361 robberiescompared with 429 over same period in 2022.

Furthermore, comparing summer 2022 – before the operations started – to summer 2023, the number of watch robberies was halved across those same three boroughs – 113 in July 2022 down to 55 in July 2023.

Ben Russell, commander for MPS Intelligence, said: “This is a rare chance to give the public insight into the work done by our undercover officers, which resulted in 31 robbers arrested in a 12-month period, all caught red-handed trying to steal high value watches in the heart of the West End. Fourteen have already been sentenced, with more awaiting sentencing and other cases pending.

“Using data and intelligence, we identified the locations and times where these crimes were taking place and deployed undercover officers into the area, as part of our precision-based approach to fighting crime.

“By targeting the people causing the most harm and the locations most frequently linked to crime, we are having a greater impact on keeping our communities safe.

“Undercover operations will always carry an element of personal danger and, while we risk assess all our operations thoroughly, all the officers involved demonstrated extraordinary courage and determination.”

The MPS has also released CCTV clips of four incidents during the two operations in Soho that dramatically display the bravery of the undercover officers who took part.

“Undercover deployments are just one of a wide range of measures the Met has employed to bear down on personal robbery offences,” the force said. “These include proactive patrols in hotspots across the capital and working with local and pan-London teams to develop insightful intelligence.”

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